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Ghost Wall

Review

Ghost Wall

The north of England holds many charms and secrets for Silvie and her parents. On the moors and in the heather, her father looks backward to the mythological past, her mother is stuck in a terrible present, and Silvie herself dreams of a future she cannot quite imagine as real. Sarah Moss’ GHOST WALL is a slim and powerful novel that brings Silvie face to face with both her father’s dangerous beliefs and the possibility of escape from his control.

For two summer weeks, Silvie and her parents join an experiential anthropology class of one professor and three college students to recreate life in Iron Age Britain. Silvie’s father, Bill, is a bus driver obsessed with the ancient history of Britain and what he thinks it says about his own heritage and culture. Silvie has been raised hiking across the moors and through the bogs that represent to Bill the power of English tradition and identity. She also has been raised to accept his authority and expect his violence. Her compliance is challenged when she begins to see her father through the eyes of Professor Slade and his students --- Dan, Molly and Pete. Molly especially asks Silvie to think about her father in ways she had not dared previously.

"A compelling and unique coming-of-age tale, GHOST WALL is a chilling story that is beautifully written and unforgettable."

The small groups spend their days mimicking their ancient ancestors: gathering berries and nuts, fishing, and hunting rabbits while wearing rough tunics and keeping the outdoor fires lit. But Silvie notices right away that even Professor Slade takes many liberties: wearing warmer modern clothes, sleeping in a tent, bringing packaged food --- all things that Bill refuses to allow his family to do. More than that, Silvie sees, over campfire conversations, that her father’s notions about history and archaeology are not always correct and are often close-minded. Molly, too, is paying close attention to the men and the way Silvie and her mom are treated.

Right away, Silvie’s mother becomes responsible for the cooking and cleaning, never leaving the campsite. And both she and Silvie are beaten by Bill for perceived offenses. However, even Professor Slade is caught up in Bill’s idea to build a Ghost Wall, a place of sacrifice, and to offer up Silvie in a mock ritual. With her physical and emotional autonomy only beginning to develop, Silvie is unable to resist the plans that the men have scripted for her at the Ghost Wall.

GHOST WALL is captivating: tense, menacing, wild and heart-rending. Moss’ style is lovely and breathless, perfectly suited to Silvie’s first person narration. The tension builds slowly and steadily over the course of the story, which finishes up at just 130 pages. The climax is no less terrible for its predictability. Bill is a classic villain of a certain type, and Silvie’s mother is less developed than she would’ve been in a longer or more traditional novel. Molly is a wonderful character used by Moss to contrast Silvie and to highlight the hope and strength Silvie is discovering in herself.

A compelling and unique coming-of-age tale, GHOST WALL is a chilling story that is beautifully written and unforgettable.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 11, 2019

Ghost Wall
by Sarah Moss

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374161925
  • ISBN-13: 9780374161927